How do you usually respond when you are asked about your strengths and weaknesses in an interview? This is a dreaded question for many people, because it often feels like a trap. How do you describe your weaknesses without being perceived as unfit for the role? And how you do bring out your strengths without sounding conceited? Let’s discuss ways to find a balance with interview strengths and weaknesses questions, to help you answer like a seasoned professional.
When you understand the purpose of questions related to your strengths and weaknesses, you can actually seize this part of the interview as a chance to shine. Why do interviewers ask these types of questions?
To get to know the candidate better.
Employers want to hear you express, in your own words, why you’re a good fit for the job and company. Questions about strengths and weaknesses provide more depth, and allow the interviewer to make a well-informed hiring decision. Let’s consider some insights that can help you answer these questions confidently:
As you might have guessed, sometimes it’s more than the question itself - it’s how you answer it. These questions can help interviewers learn a lot about a candidate, beyond the actual strengths and weaknesses they bring up. It takes a level of skill to be able to eloquently navigate these questions, especially a delicate subject such as talking about your weaknesses.
For many careers, being able to answer vague (and sometimes stupid) questions quickly and gracefully is a requirement of the job. Employers often use this question to gauge a candidate’s self-awareness and their ability to carry themselves in a professional way.
Preparation is the key to all aspects of a successful interview. If you just rattle strengths and weaknesses off the top of your head, it’ll show. When answering any question, you want to show that you’ve given it some thought.
Prior to the interview, utilize your research skills and do a little digging on both the company and the job you’re interviewing for. This will allow you to tailor your answer to the job requirements and hit key points. Good preparation will also enable you to answer these commonly dreaded questions quite confidently, which always leaves a good impression.
Context plays a major role in answering questions about your strengths and weaknesses. By telling a story, you can establish the appropriate context and provide hiring managers with an honest, thoughtful answer. Aim to include a real-life example in your explanation. You could talk about a time where a strength helped you solve a problem, or a time when you managed a weakness (more on this later).
A story makes your interview memorable and is a method of showing rather than just telling. Moreover, stories build empathy and they can help the interviewer better understand the angle you’re coming from.
To determine strengths to mention in your interview, think of qualities that have enabled your success in your career. Your strengths should be skills that can be supported through experience. It’s generally better to focus on soft skills as strengths, since they provide an opportunity to elaborate and demonstrate your critical skills.
You want to match this strength with the research that you have done about the company. What skills were highlighted in the job description? What key values are highlighted on the organization’s website? Use what you’ve learned to identify a couple of strengths that show that you are a perfect fit for the role. Be sure to make an inescapable connection between your strengths and the needs of the job.
When determining weaknesses, be tactful and focus on areas that don’t interfere with your ability to perform the core functions of the role. Your weaknesses can include a hard skill set out in the job description, provided you emphasize your desire to acquire this skill through a course or program.
A clever way to approach this is to talk about a weakness that you’re in the process of overcoming. Explain the steps you’ve taken to minimize a weakness or a system that you’ve implemented to help you manage it. This is an insightful response that helps your employer to view you as someone who is able to rise above obstacles and challenges.
Here are some possible strengths to highlight:
Here are some weaknesses that could be appropriate, depending on the role:
You may be asked about your strengths and weaknesses in one question, or you may be asked about them in two separate questions. If they're packaged together, it can be effective to begin with your weaknesses and then finish strong by discussing your strengths.
At this point, I'd also like to mention that you should try and avoid the response of "I'm a perfectionist." This answer is commonly viewed as a cliché used by those who didn't prepare well for the interview. Even if you want to convey a similar idea, you can modify your response so it sounds more perceptive.
With that in mind, here are some good examples of ways to answer interview questions about your weaknesses:
Response: "My greatest weakness is that I at times hold back from speaking. I have the assumption that those around me are more qualified than I am when it comes to the subject. However, I realize that for me to be a good engineer, I need to provide a different set of eyes - because no one is so good that they don’t make mistakes or get lost in the details. If I see a mistake, no matter how little, I need to bring it up before the product hits the market. This enables me to either learn when my suggestion is wrong, or save the company millions of dollars if I am right. I realize that this is a problem of mine, and I have recently forced myself to remedy this situation by actively participating in every pipeline project meeting within the last 3 months."
Why it works: This is an excellent response because it follows the formula of: stating the weakness, providing context, then explaining how the weakness is being addressed. This response demonstrates a high level of self-awareness and professionalism.
Response: “I find that I have trouble getting back on task after getting interrupted. In the past, this meant I struggled with leaving my work to take care of spontaneous requests. I have since taken steps to ensure that I stay on track. Now, when I get interrupted, I put a sticky note on the edge of my computer with whatever I was doing. Then when I am done with the interruption, I immediately see the note telling me what I should be doing. This helps me to manage my attention and remain productive.”
Why it works: This response displays self-awareness and independent problem solving. The candidate has identified a weakness that could potentially be an issue in a fast-paced work environment, yet their solution is logical and very fitting. Thus, the employer would have no real reason for concern.
Response: "I tend to be overly critical of myself. Whenever I complete a project, I tend to look back and get fixated on the small details, even if I received positive feedback. Earlier in my career, this led to me getting stressed easily and feeling burnt out. However, over the last few years, I’ve tried to look at my achievements objectively, celebrate my wins, and move onto the next project. This has not only improved my work and my confidence, but it has helped me genuinely appreciate and recognize my team for the hard work they also put in."
Why it works: This response highlights a weakness that is reasonable and would not disqualify a candidate from being hired. The candidate well describes their transformation and how overcoming the weakness has helped them become a better team player.
Response: "My weakness is inexperience in affiliate marketing. However, I am a quick learner and enjoy a challenge. For example, in my most recent role, I was unfamiliar with their record-keeping system at first. After a few days of on the job training, I was able to navigate the system, but I still wasn't happy with my work speed. I found tutorials online and spent evenings training myself to a deeper level of knowledge. This enabled me to become fluent in the program within a short time. I hope to approach this industry with the same eagerness and independent learning to succeed in the role of digital marketing assistant."
Why it works: This response is great because it doesn’t dwell on the candidate's lack of experience - the focus is evidently on her ability to learn things quickly. The response shows the interviewer that the candidate is highly-motivated and committed to mastering unfamiliar territory.
Response: "Because I am independent and enjoy working quickly, it has been difficult for me to ask for help when I need it. I tend to believe that I can solve any problem on my own. This works well in some situations, but in many cases, I need the help of others who have specific knowledge and skills that can make my work better.
At an event last year, I tried to manage everything from the social media campaign to the guest seating. It wasn’t until after the event that I realized how narrowly I had pulled it off. I have learned that it is much more beneficial both for me and the business to reach out when I do not understand something or feel burned out with my workload. Recently, I’ve been training myself to delegate and bounce ideas with others. As a result, I have been able to finish projects faster and produce more high-quality work."
Why it works: This a strong response because it provides context through storytelling. The candidate demonstrates an impressive understanding of the importance of delegation, not only in terms of personal benefits, but also in the organizational context. The response helps an interviewer build empathy and respect for the candidate through their honest reflection and self-improvement journey.
Let's consider some examples of how to describe your strengths in an interview.
What is the key to success when talking about your strengths?
Stay focused on one or two key qualities that relate directly to the role and support them with specific, relevant examples. Don't list multiple, vague strengths, or rattle off twenty positive adjectives to describe yourself. Provide the interviewer with a clear snapshot of who you are and what you can bring to the organization.
Consider these examples:
Response:"I believe that my greatest strength is my ability to solve problems quickly and efficiently. When I was working as a retail manager, we had a situation where a customer came to pick up a dress that she had put on hold, but it had accidentally been put on the floor and sold to another customer. When I found out, I immediately called all the nearby store locations to find a dress in her size, then had it shipped to her home at no extra charge. I later found out that the customer was thrilled and left a glowing review. My ability to solve problems quickly enables me to provide good customer service and complete my work even under challenging conditions."
Why it works: This response is excellent because it doesn’t just show, it tells. The candidate describes a past event that demonstrates their ability to solve problems efficiently and quickly - a skill that’s extremely valuable in any workplace. Moreover, this response highlights positive feedback that was received as a result, which helps to build further credibility.
Response: "I’d say one of my greatest strengths is bringing teams together and implementing processes to make everyone’s lives easier. In my previous position as Art Director, I created new processes to give the designers more freedom and creative input in projects. I used weekly round-table discussions for brainstorming, exchanging ideas, and tracking the progress of overall team goals.
Everyone in the company knew how things worked and how long they would take, and the structures helped alleviate stress and set expectations on all sides. This setup also ensured that each designer was given full autonomy to do their best work. I’d be excited to bring that same approach to the role of operations manager, to build team morale and keep things running smoothly."
Why it works: This response is insightful and demonstrates the candidate’s ability to motivate others and improve team collaboration. The candidate shares specific steps that were taken to involve team members, and the positive outcomes that resulted. Moreover, the response demonstrates enthusiasm - the candidate has already thought about how they could transfer this strength to the new position.
Response: "My greatest strength is my ability to work well under pressure. One specific example that comes to mind is when I was asked to give a presentation at short notice when a colleague was sick. I had to quickly draw up a speech and learn to speak confidently about material I had only been briefed on the day before. It was an important event, so I got to work and practiced until I was able to deliver the speech fluently. Not only was it finished on time, but it was received very well by my audience of high-level executives."
Why it works: This is a strong response that explains a previous situation where the candidate was on a tight schedule and had to complete a task as daunting as public speaking. The response demonstrates the candidate’s trustworthiness, excellent work ethic, and ability to adapt to the needs of the organization.
Response: My creativity is one of my strongest assets. I like to look at projects from multiple angles and think outside of the box. For example, in my last job, I was tasked with reaching a new audience for our products. After brainstorming and conducting preliminary research, I decided to look into social media platforms targeted toward a younger audience. Through my exploration of multiple niches, I discovered that funny video tutorials are the most entertaining, provide greater value, and are typically watched in their entirety. We subsequently launched a video series and were able to grow a new fan base within two months on the platform. Within six months, it became a new source of leads for our company and generated $80,000 in new revenue."
Why it works: The candidate shares a story that is interesting, inspiring, and based on quantifiable results. The response is effective because it is well-structured, and takes the interviewer through each step of the experience - from the inception of the idea, to the impressive end result and impact on the company’s growth.
Response: I believe that my greatest strength is time management. Meeting deadlines is important to me, so I use a project management software called Trello to keep track of all my tasks and their due dates. As new projects come up, I add them to my list within the software and include the deadline, which helps me prioritize items that must be completed before others on my to-do list.
I was promoted to team lead in my last position, so it changed the nature of my work and schedule to include less background support and more client interaction. I adjusted to the change by starting each day by responding to emails. I made a daily list of clients I needed to contact and questions to answer. This process ensured that I was able to meet clients needs while still having time in the day to complete several other projects.
Why it works: This response is great for a number of reasons. Firstly, the candidate is specific. He mentions the software and processes he uses to stay productive. Secondly, the mention of the promotion demonstrates the candidates competence and desirability. Additionally, the response highlights another of the candidate’s strengths - his ability to be flexible and adapt to changing requirements.
Hopefully the examples above should have given you a few ideas of how to respond to interview questions about strengths and weaknesses. But before you go, here are a few things to remember to avoid:
Always be honest about your strengths and weaknesses in an interview. If you inflate your strengths or lie about your abilities - what happens if you get the job? Interviewers value honesty and candidates who provide an honest assessment of themselves and what they do to counterbalance a weakness. Answering these questions should be relatively straightforward if you actively think about your work on a regular basis.
"Biggest weakness? I care too much. What are my strengths? About 150 pounds."
...Perhaps not the best way to answer an interview question.
If you joke around during an interview, the interviewer might start to doubt your ability to deal with situations in a professional manner. An overly casual attitude might suggest that you don't respect the question enough to give it serious thought, or that you don't take the position seriously enough to give a proper answer. For this reason, always prepare to give a thoughtful response, no matter how laid-back the interviewer might seem.
Hopefully most of us realize the false bravado of telling the interviewer that you don't have (or can't think of) any weaknesses.
This response is a signal to the interviewer that the candidate does not possess the ability to be introspective, or that they're hiding something major.
Also, don't answer a question about weaknesses with something that's actually positive. This will often be seen as cheating the question. We all have things to work on, so it should be pretty easy to brainstorm legitimate responses.
So, what is the greatest strength that you bring to [x] role?
And what is your greatest weakness?
Keeping the above tips and examples in mind will help you provide a strong and confident answer during your interview. Remember that these questions are not a trap - they’re simply used as a way for an interviewer to get to know you better. Make time to practice and prepare before the interview, but don’t stress out about it. When you’re professional, thoughtful, and sincere, you’ll be able to sail through these questions and leave a wonderful impression on the interviewer.
All the best!
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